New Delhi: India’s mammoth afforestation scheme, the Green India Mission, may have more greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction potential than previously estimated, according to a yet-to-be published study in Current Science.
The mission could offset about 10.5% of projected national GHG emissions compared with the ministry of environment and forests’ earlier estimate of 6.4%, according to Greening India Mission: A critical review by the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. The study has been submitted for review.
If the new estimates are true, it will make easier India’s task of reducing carbon intensity— effectively the amount of GHG emitted per unit of energy consumed—by 20-25% by 2020 (with 2005 as the base year). India made the commitment ahead of a UN climate conference in Copenhagen in December 2009.
The 10.5% estimate includes the total mitigation potential of ongoing afforestation schemes in India (around 1.2-1.3 million ha annually).
The GHG removal by India’s forests in 2020 is projected at 4.87% of total emissions then, without the Green Mission.
“The government’s estimate does not include soil carbon, which implies the lower estimate. There are two ways forests store carbon, one as wood and biomass (above ground and root biomass) carbon and the other as soil carbon. The official estimate includes only above ground biomass,” said the paper’s author, who did not want to be identified before its publication.
Environment minister Jairam Ramesh, who had announced the mission, did not respond to calls or text messages.
According to the study, the official number is estimated by simply multiplying global default biomass growth rate values by area, whereas the study uses the internationally accepted comprehensive mitigation assessment process model.
The author said both the estimations have one limitation. “Neither of the numbers include extraction of fuelwood or timber from these forests over the years, which could reduce it a bit. There is no way to estimate how much people will extract,” said the author.
The mission, which plans on restoring and afforesting around 10 million ha between 2010 and 2020, is a part of the National Action Plan on Climate Change. The mission draft is still under public consultation, after which it will be finalized. The draft estimates that the mission will cost approximately Rs44,000 crore.
India is also negotiating on the global climate change platform for funds to maintain forest cover as well as afforestation.
At present, global negotiations are more focused on funds for reducing deforestation, which releases carbon dioxide.
Jagdish Kishwan, director general, Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education, questioned the argument that measuring carbon sequestration by afforestation is tough.
“It is not so difficult, (it’s) very much possible, but depends on what accuracy you want,” he said. “Earlier, no one thought we could measure forest cover.”
The study says the biggest barriers to the mission are finance, and knowledge and experience in forest management.
“India has a gigantic afforestation programme, next only to China. But no biodiversity or social benefits have accrued,” said the author. “Little science, and research and development is involved in sustainable silviculture practices or species choice. And very little in enhancing carbon stock. Hardly anything has happened in the last 30 years. Hopefully this will provide a momentum.”